Ryan gambles on European elections as Greens struggle to be relevant
Green Party leader confirms he is to stand in Dublin constituency in 2014
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan in september 2010, when he was minister for communications, energy and natural resources, arriving at Government Buildings for a cabinet meeting. Photograph: Frank Miller
A quip made famous by the late Con Houlihan perfectly, if cruelly, describes the current status of the Green Party.
A reporter with notions had left the Irish Press to become famous in another field. About a year after his departure, a crowd from the Press was drinking in Mulligans pub and the conversation turned to their former colleague.
“What ever became of that fellow?” asked one.
Houlihan’s retort was: “Forgotten but not gone”.
The Green Party is still around although evidence of their presence on the ground is fairly scant.
That the party would be laid low in 2011 is not surprising. It was eviscerated in that February general election, losing all of its six seats. Worse, it failed to garner the 2 per cent of the national vote that was required to get funding from the State. So it had to move from being a professional organisation with a total of 40 staff (when in government) to a voluntary organisation with just enough resources to pay one full-time staff member.
To compound its difficulties, the party had had an awful local election in 2009, losing 13 of its 16 full council seats – and since then its Clare county councillor Brian Meaney has defected to Fianna Fáil.
The Green Party doesn’t face the same existential threat as other small parties because – like has happened in so many EU countries – there will always be a space for a party that campaigns primarily on environmental issues. The yo-yo phenomenon is common. The Greens in Germany, for example, lost all their seats but have bounced back electorally in recent years.
The question is will it recover sufficiently under Eamon Ryan’s leadership to reestablish a foothold in the local and European elections in 2014 and return to have a national presence after the next general election? Or will it take a decade for the party to recover?
In 2011, some of the remaining party activists came together and published a strategic plan to take it from 2012 to 2016. But the difficulties that came with the grim new reality has meant that some of the more ambitious targets were not realistic - raising €100,000 per year; doubling the membership to 2,000 over four years (it’s still possible but a tall order); drafting new policies across all areas; and putting forward a host of articulate next-generation spokespeople.
The party’s recovery has been slow and halting and, ergo, not always apparent. Their partners in political crime, Fianna Fáil, have picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and moved on but you sense the Greens have been in a holding pattern for two years now.
The party did publish a decent pre-budget submission and has held two major climate change conferences in the Burren and in Dublin. However, it has yet to produce its promised new policies and there are clear gaps in representation in constituencies, including some Dublin constituencies where you would expect them to be strong. Ryan is a one-person political think tank with an impressive grasp of the big issues but there is a sense that the party needs to focus more on simple, local and tangible issues.